‘Traffic lights’ to warrant quality of food served in schools
| Azaraimy HH |
A MANDATORY guideline for school canteen operators in the country will be issued by the Health Promotion Unit at the Ministry of Education to further ensure the provision of quality food to students whilst ensuring that they abide to the stringent order.
The ‘Weeks Menu Cycle’ guidelines will act similarly like a ‘traffic light’ where food items listed in the ‘green light’ are good to go whereas those listed in the ‘yellow light’ can only be served on a periodic basis while others will fall in to the ‘red light’ category and cannot be served at all. Such initiatives will assist school canteens in better preparing nutritious food items.
The Health Promotion Unit also revealed that around 60 to 70 per cent of school canteens fail to follow the basic guidelines in providing healthy food and maintaining proper cleanliness and hygiene.
This was highlighted by Hjh Jamilah binti Hj Mohd Ali, Head of the Health Promotion Unit, Department of Schools at the Ministry of Education in an interview with the Bulletin yesterday. She attributed this predicament to a lack of awareness amongst operators and the guidelines are aimed at improving their knowledge as such.
The menu cycle and ‘traffic light’ analogy, she remarked, were derived from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and countries such as Singapore where a successful and effective implementation of the guidelines has been achieved. From today onwards (Thursday), the ‘Weeks Menu Cycle’ will be demonstrated to all operators in stages during the food preparation tips.
“The unit is currently holding workshops for school canteen operators to improve the situation and given practical demonstrations on how to prepare food,” Hjh Jamilah said.
She then cited a recent report conducted by the Ministry of Health from 2009-2011 on its National Health Survey involving children aged 0-5 years old. It was discovered that 8.7 per cent of children had consumed sweet beverages at an early age. Such unhealthy eating habits and failing to meet the daily-recommended nutrient intake along with inadequate consumption of vegetables and fruits had also increased the children’s risks of developing health problems in the future.
The survey also revealed 8.8 per cent of children aged five and below were obese while those below three years of age made up 3.3 per cent of the obesity rate. On that note, she emphasised the vital role school canteens play in resolving the situation and informed that the Ministry of Education along with other ministries such as the Ministry of Religious Affairs will collaborate to ensure the effective implementation of the guidelines.
“The canteens are already offering healthy food varieties but it is still inadequate and fails to meet our standards. To even achieve 30 per cent of the overall varieties is a rarity. Hence the ‘menu cycle’ was created and will be distributed to all canteen operators in the country.
“After three months, we will visit the school canteens to survey whether they abide by the obligatory ‘menu cycle’ guidelines. If found to be ignoring the order, then we will see what happens,” she explained.
Hjh Jamilah also highlighted that the role of the Health Promotion Unit is not enforcement but rather, monitoring the situation.
However, according to the agree-ment between canteen operators and the School Food Division at the Ministry of Education, they can be suspended for two weeks if failing to abide by the stipulated guidelines and should they still refuse to follow the ‘menu cycle’, the school has the authority to shut down their canteen operations.